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By Kirby Browne, Permaculture student, National Environment Centre, Thurgoona

More often than not, when people ask me what I am studying my reply is met with a blank stare or the timid enquiry “What exactly is Permaculture?” Initially this made me nervous, as anyone who’s ever tried to simplify such a broad subject for the sake of polite brevity will understand. Bill Mollison himself (the Australian co-founder of Permaculture) has admitted to having trouble explaining the concept.

This enigmatic quality is, I believe, to do with the nature of the subject which is…well…nature. Our undeniably human instinct to quantify and categorize everything we discover is contradictory to the way natural ecologies actually operate. But they operate none the less, and Permaculture is a guide for us to try and understand this streamlined chaos and hopefully apply it in a way that is harmonious with our environment and beneficial to us.

The ideas at the very heart of Permaculture are not new revelations. People have been practicing Permaculture in one way or another for centuries, although it was only conceptualized in the mid 1970s. The ideology is outlined by three core ethics: Earth care, people care and fair share, and the aim is to reduce human reliance on large scale industrial systems, which heavily pollute our air and water and exploit finite fossil fuels to maintain production.

Focus is, instead, shifted to small scale, diverse, individual systems which are designed to harmoniously integrate with the land and each other. Their effectiveness depends not only on co-operation between the individual farms, gardens, orchards etc but also on the relationships between each element within these operations. The outputs of one element become the inputs of another and wastes become resources. The result is a stable, sustainable, productive network mimicking the processes of a natural ecosystem.

In a world where we prefer soluble problems, quick results and clearly defined terms like black and white, right and wrong, cause and effect, the philosophy of Permaculture sits patiently on our horizon. It is heartening to discover Permaculture appearing in main streams of education. This is an exciting progression from the days of inspired farmers and gardeners offering workshops from their own homes and communities. It shows an ideologically evolving society, whose door is ajar to the possibilities of alternative ways of respecting, not just our resources, but each other and the rest of the natural world.